United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Geneva Round III: High Hopes, Deep Divide

            On the eve of new talks, key players from Iran and the world’s six major powers remained firmly committed to rival positions but also expressed cautious optimism about an interim agreement. The third round takes place in Geneva on November 20-22. The following are comments from senior officials.

Iran

President Hassan Rouhani
            In a string of tweets, President Rouhani was upbeat about tangible progress, hinting at the last minute change in the draft agreement that prevented agreement at the November 7-9 talks. His tweets followed a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 18.
 
 
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif
            In an interview with an Iranian news agency, Foreign Minister Zarif used language that hinted at a possible compromise on the controversial issue of uranium enrichment, the critical process that provides fuel for both nuclear energy and a nuclear weapon. He said other countries could "respect" Iran’s right while not formally recognizing it.
            "Iran's enrichment right does not need recognition, because it is an inseparable right based on the NPT [Nonproliferation Treaty]. What we expect is respecting parts of this right," Zarif told the Iranian Student News Agency.
            Zarif, who is also the lead nuclear negotiator, said all participants to the talks share common goals. "I think that there is no serious disagreement on shared goal and the final perspective… I can't see any reason to be pessimist about seriousness of the sides in recording agreed issues."
            On November 19, Zarif posted the following video, titled "Iran's Message: There Is A Way Forward."
 
 
The United States
President Barack Obama
            In a press conference, the president pushed back on new Congressional sanctions before another round of diplomacy.
“We will have lost nothing if, at the end of the day, it turns out that they [Iranians] are not prepared to provide the international community the hard proof and assurances necessary for us to know that they're not pursuing a nuclear weapon…
            “If it turns out six months from now they're not serious, we can crank - we can dial those sanctions right back up.”
            Nov. 14, 2013 at a press conference
 
            In a letter to Congressional leaders, former national security advisers for both Democratic and Republican presidents called for wider backing from the Senate and House for the new diplomatic initiative with Iran. The letter from Zbigniew Bzrezinski (from the Carter administration) and Brent Scowcroft (of the George H.W. Bush administration) also appealed for a delay of new punitive measure to give the “unprecedented” diplomatic talks a greater chance of success.
            We support President Obama’s decision to seek a first phase understanding with Iran to limit Iran’s nuclear program  now. The agreement under discussion would slow crucial elements of the Iran program,  make it more transparent and allow time to  reach a more comprehensive agreement in the coming year.  The apparent commitment of the new government of Iran to reverse course on its nuclear activities needs to be tested to insure it cannot rapidly build a nuclear weapon.  Such an agreement would advance the national security of the United States, Israel, and other partners in the region.
           For nearly two decades American Presidents with the strong support of the US Congress have worked on a two track policy of building ever more forceful sanctions against and pressure on Iran, combined with a willingness to turn to diplomacy when opportune.  It now seems possible that this dual track approach could achieve our goals of preventing a nuclear armed Iran.  
           The United States has had the unprecedented cooperation of its allies and virtually the entire international community in this two track strategy.   Should the United States fail to take this historic opportunity, we risk failing to achieve our non-proliferation goal and losing the support of allies and friends while increasing the probability of war.
           Additional sanctions now against Iran with the view to extracting  even more concessions in the negotiations will risk undermining or even shutting down the negotiations. More sanctions now as these unprecedented negotiations are just getting underway would  reconfirm  Iranians in their belief that the US is not prepared to make any agreement with the current government of Iran. We call on all Americans and the US Congress to stand firmly with the President in the difficult but historic negotiations with Iran.                     
           Sincerely,
           Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former National Security Advisor
           Brent Scowcroft, Former National Security Advisor
 
 
Russia
            Russia has been the most optimistic publicly about the prospects of an agreement. President Vladimir Putin called President Rouhani on November 18 to discuss the negotiations.
 
“Vladimir Putin underlined [in a call with President Rouhani] that at the moment a real chance has appeared to find a solution to this long-running problem.”
            Nov. 18, 2013 in a Kremlin statement
 
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
            “The steps that Iran is prepared to set out as its commitments are quite, quite substantial and go in the direction of the demands of the international community at a much faster pace, in fact, than had been expected.”
            Nov. 18, 2013 to reporters
 
Israel
            Israel has been the most critical of the diplomacy, although there is a wide range of opinions among top politicians. The following is a cross section of comments.
 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
            “They're not giving up any of their capacity.  They have 18,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium to make the core of a bomb. They're not giving up even one centrifuge. Not one. So they're keeping their capacity.
             “I think a lot is being offered by the P5+1 for Iran.  It's getting just an enormous deal, from their point of view, and it's giving practically nothing in return.  They're keeping their infrastructure to make nuclear bombs…But I think also to the signaling inside Iran that it's over, and signaling outside Iran to many countries that will start scrambling for contracts in Iran.  And it's going to be very hard to keep the sanctions regime.
            “I think the opposite should be done.  I think you should not only keep up the pressure; I think you should increase the pressure, because it's finally working…If you want a peaceful solution, as I do, then the right thing to do is ratchet up the sanctions.”
            Nov. 17, 2013 in an interview with CNN
 
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
            “If Iran is serious, why not end this whole affair with an agreement instead of by force? Perhaps we will reach the conclusion that nothing else worked, but we owe it to ourselves to check.”
            Nov. 17, 2013 in remarks to American college students
 
Zahava Gal-on, Meretz Party leader in parliament
            “Netanyahu doesn’t object, as he wrote on his Facebook page, to a ‘bad agreement with Iran,’ but to any agreement that’s directly negotiated between the United States and Iran… It’s in Israel’s interest to support the US goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons through a diplomatic agreement that will employ stringent monitoring and verification, and not the winds of war.”
            Nov. 16, 2013 according to The Times of Israel
 
 

Sanctions: How Much is Iran Hurting?

      Sanctions are costing Iran some $5 billion a month —or $120 billion since 2008— according to senior U.S. officials. Overall, Tehran’s economy shrunk by five percent in 2012. Sanctions have also cut Iranian banks off from the international financial system, which has exacerbated rampant inflation. The following are facts and excerpts from an Obama administration briefing on the eve of the third round of talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers.

 
•  Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost around 60 percent of its value against it against the dollar since 2011.
•  The Central Bank of Iran and most larger Iranian banks have been cut off from the international financial system.
•  Declining oil exports are costing Iran up to $5 billion each month, or approximately $120 billion since 2008.
•  Iran has about $100 billion frozen in foreign banks that it has no access to because of banking sanctions.
•  Iran’s economy shrunk by five percent in 2012.
 
 
Background Briefing:
Senior Administration Officials on P5+1 Negotiations with Iran
 
            Last year, Iran’s economy contracted by more than 5 percent.  And its currency, the rial, has lost around 60 percent of its value against its – against the dollar since 2011.  The international financial links of the most significant Iranian banks have been severed and the activities of the Central Bank of Iran substantially curtailed.  Iran’s oil experts – exports, which currently average only around a million barrels per day, are dramatically down from an average of about 2.5 million barrels per day in 2011.  These declining exports are costing Iran up to $5 billion a month and have cost Iran, along with our other sanctions, about $120 billion – $120 billion since we’ve been at this… [since] 2008, 2009… [over the] last several years…
 
            Around $100 billion of Iran’s reserves are locked up in foreign accounts today.[1] If we do allow Iran to repatriate some of its money from these accounts during the initial phase, it won’t be anywhere near enough to relieve the underlying stress that we’ve brought to bear against the Iranian economy…
 
            Iran is isolated from the international banking system due to the intricate web of overlapping international sanctions we have put in place on Iran’s banks and the Iranian Government’s financial activities.  Because of this, Iran cannot easily move money around the world.  So even with limited access to some of their funds, Iran will have a difficult time both moving and utilizing this money.  The commonplace principle that all money is fungible just doesn’t apply to Iran today...
 
 

Long-Range Missiles a Decade Away

            Iran is highly unlikely to deploy a long-range missile capable of reaching U.S. territory within the next decade, according to a new brief by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Tehran has two routes for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The first would be to finish development and testing of its solid-fuel missile, the Sajjil-2. But Iran has only carried out onetest flight since 2009, and the project reportedly ran into serious technical problems.
            The alternative route would be to produce a liquid-fuel missile. Iran’s work on those missiles, however, has either been delayed or suspended, according to Michael Elleman, one of The Iran Primer's co-authors . Even if Iran overcomes the technical obstacles to building a prototype, flight-trials would likely last four or more years. The following are excerpts from the brief.

            Israel has stepped up its claims that Iran is developing ballistic missiles capable of hitting the United States. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently repeated the assertion several times while visiting the US. However, Israel’s assessment of the likely timing differs markedly from Washington’s. And independent analysis indicates that Tehran is unlikely to have such a weapon before the end of the decade…
 
Potential Paths
             A 2010 Strategic Dossier published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies judged that Iran had the technical and manufacturing infrastructure needed to assemble ICBMs if it could reliably access critical missile components, manufacturing tools and propellant ingredients. The study identified two potential routes to the acquisition of ICBMs.
 
Sajjil-2 route
             The first would seek to leverage and expand upon the solid-propellant manufacturing infrastructure and know-how that led to the production of prototypes of the Sajjil-2, a two-stage, medium-range missile that was initially test flown in 2008. Three additional test flights were carried out in 2009. However, Iran has conducted only one test since then, suggesting that the development effort had encountered serious technical setbacks.
             The soonest Iran might have an operational, solid-propellant ICBM under this scenario would be late 2019. But this assumes that Iran could mature its technical and manufacturing capacity smoothly and efficiently, while skipping the critical step of perfecting an IRBM before attempting to create an ICBM. It also assumes that Iran could proceed more quickly than France, China or India did in their respective efforts to develop long-range missiles...
 
Liquid-propellant route
             Liquid-propellant technologies offer an alternative route to an ICBM. Iran’s Ghadr missile is a single-stage system derived from the North Korean No-dong, and is capable of delivering a 700kg payload to a range of roughly 1,600km...
             On 2 February 2009, Iran placed a small 27kg satellite, the Omid, into low-Earth orbit using an indigenously designed and developed space-launch vehicle, the two-stage Safir... A mock-up of a more ambitious and capable satellite-launch vehicle, the Simorgh, was unveiled in February 2010. Iranian media indicated that the Simorgh’s inaugural launch would take place in March 2011, but no flight has yet been detected...
             A still larger version of the Simorgh could be designed and built using No-dong and other liquid-fuelled engines in Iran’s possession. However, given the unproven capabilities of the Simorgh design, Iranian engineers are unlikely to assume the technical risks inherent in bypassing the intermediate step offered by Simorgh development efforts and test launches. Further, there is no indication that foreign intelligence organisations have spotted mock-ups of an Iranian ICBM.
 
Long timeline
             If worst-case estimates were to unfold and Iran were to flight test a prototype ICBM, historical precedent indicates that flight-trials of the Iranian missile would last at least three years, and more likely four or more years. Iran’s limited experience in testing missiles or space launchers that fly beyond its borders and over the oceans, where flight trajectories are more difficult to track and critical performance data are hard to collect, suggests that ICBM flight trials would extend beyond five years, pushing the earliest date Iran might deploy an operational missile capable of reaching US territory beyond 2020.
             It should be noted that the notional ICBM described above would be roughly 30 metres tall and weigh in excess of 90 tonnes, making it too large and cumbersome to be placed on a mobile platform...
 
Click here for full brief.
 
Click here to learn more about Iran's air power and missile assets.
 
 
 
 

US-Iran Timeline Since 1979

           The following is a chronology of key events in U.S.-Iran relations since the 1979 revolution.

 
1979
Feb. 14 – Students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, but were evicted by the deputy foreign minister and Iranian security forces.
 
Aug. 10 – Iran canceled a $9 billion arms deal with the United States made during the shah's reign.
 
Nov. 4 – Students belonging to the Students Following the Imam’s Line seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The hostage crisis lasted 444 days. On Nov. 12, Washington cut off oil imports from Iran. On Nov. 14, President Carter issued Executive Order 12170 ordering a freeze on an estimated $6 billion of Iranian assets and official bank deposits in the United States.
 
1980
April 7 – The United States cut off diplomatic relations with Iran.
 
April 25 – The United States attempted a rescue mission of the American hostages during Operation Eagle Claw. The mission failed due to a sandstorm and eight American servicemen were killed. Ayatollah Khomeini credited the failure to divine intervention. 
 
1981
Jan. 20 – After weeks of mediation by Algeria, Washington and Tehran agreed to the Algiers Accord to end the hostage crisis. The United States agreed to release frozen Iranian assets and not to intervene in Iranian affairs, in exchange for the release of 52 American hostages. Both countries agreed to end lawsuits. All claims would be referred to international arbitration at a new Iran-U. S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague.
 
1982
July 19 – American University of Beirut President David Dodge became the first of several Americans to be taken hostage over the next nine years. He was the only one taken from Lebanon to Iran, where he spent one year in prison.
 
1983
Oct. 23 – The United States accused Iran of aiding the suicide bombing at the barracks of U.S. Marine peacekeepers in Lebanon, which killed 241 U.S. military personnel, the largest loss to the American military in a single incident since Iwo Jima in World War II.
 
1984
Jan. 23 – The Reagan administration put Iran on the State Department list of governments supporting terrorism.
 
March – An Iran-supported militia in Beirut again began abducting American hostages, including CIA station chief William Buckley, who died in captivity.
 
1985
Apr. 1 – Washington warned Iran it would be held responsible if American hostages were harmed. By mid-summer, Washington had begun behind-the-scene diplomatic efforts that led to the arms-for-hostage swap.
 
June 2 – During a visit to Japan, Parliamentary Speaker Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani called on the United States to restore relations with Iran. Later that month, he played a role in ending the hijacking of TWA 847, the 17-day hostage ordeal of 39 Americans in Beirut.
 
Aug. 14 – A shipment of U.S. TOW antitank missiles was sent to Tehran from Israel as part of the secret arms-for-hostage swap. The same day, Rev. Benjamin Weir became the first of three American hostages to be freed in Lebanon.
 
Nov. 22 – A shipment of HAWK anti-aircraft missiles was sent to Tehran from Israel as the second phase of an arms-for-hostage swap, but the deal fell far short of what was promised and Iran ordered a refund of payment and a resupply.
 
1986
Jan. 17 – President Ronald Reagan signed a special finding to permit negotiations with Iran on hostages and to help promote “moderate” elements in Tehran. This was followed by a shipment of 1,000 TOW missiles to Iran at the end of February.
 
May 25-28 – Former national security adviser Robert McFarlane and Lt. Col. Oliver North made a secret trip to Iran to deliver arms. In July, American hostage Father Lawrence Jenco was freed in Lebanon. On Aug. 3, the United States delivered new HAWK missiles to Iran.
 
September – Two more Americans were taken hostage in Lebanon. On Sept. 19-20, an Iranian emissary related to Rafsanjani visited Washington for talks on arms, hostages and improved relations.
 
 October – During Operation Nimble Archer, the United States attacked Iranian oil platforms in retaliation for an Iranian attack on the U.S.-flagged Kuwaiti tanker, Sea Isle City.
 
October – American writer Edward Tracy was taken hostage in Lebanon. A few days later, the United States provided 1,000 TOW missiles to Iran. On Nov. 2, American hostage David Jacobsen was freed in Beirut.
 
Nov. 3 – The Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa exposed secret dealings between Iran, Israel and the United States, which became known as the “Iran-Contra affair.”
 
1987
April 7 – Parliamentary speaker Rafsanjani said that Iran would try to mediate the release of American hostages in Lebanon if the United States showed “good will” by unfreezing Iranian assets in the United States. On May 13, the United States returned $450 million in frozen assets.
 
1988
Apr. 14 – The frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts was badly damaged by an Iranian mine. U.S. forces responded with Operation Praying Mantis on April 18, the U. S. Navy’s largest engagement of surface warships since World War II. Two Iranian oil platforms, two Iranian ships and six Iranian gunboats were destroyed.
 
June 19 – The USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane, killing 290 passengers and crew on board.
 
1989
Nov. 3 – The United States returned $567 million of frozen Iranian assets, in accordance with the Algiers Accord of 1981. American officials denied the deal was linked to Iranian President Rafsanjani's offer to help in the release of hostages in Beirut. Iranian assets valued at $900 million remained frozen.
 
Jan. 20 – In his inaugural address, George H. W. Bush said, “good will begets good will,” in reference to Iran and American hostages held by pro-Iranian Hezbollah in Lebanon.
 
1991
Dec. 4 – Terry Anderson, the last American hostage in Lebanon, was freed after Iranian intervention.
 
1994
April – President Clinton gave what Congress later termed a “green light” for Iran to transfer arms to the Muslim government of Bosnia fighting Serbian forces. The permission came despite a United Nations arms embargo against Iran. In 1996, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Select Subcommittee confirmed the U.S. role in the Iranian arms transfer.
 
1995
March 15 – The Rafsanjani government offered a billion-dollar contract to U.S. oil giant Conoco to develop two offshore oil fields, which was blocked after President Clinton signed an executive order banning U.S. investment in the Iranian oil industry.
 
May 6 – President Clinton issued a total embargo of U.S.-Iran trade and investment over the country’s alleged sponsorship of "terrorism," nuclear ambitions, and hostility to the Middle East peace process.
 
1996
June – Iran was suspected of masterminding the June 25 bombing of Khobar Towers, a U.S. Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia. Subsequently, the Clinton administration sent a letter to President Khatami, transmitted by the foreign minister of Oman. The letter indicated that Washington had direct evidence of the Revolutionary Guards’ involvement in the attacks. The message also stated that the United States wanted to work toward better relations with Iran. Tehran’s response was brusque, denying the allegations.
 
Aug. 4 – President Clinton signed into law the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), which penalized foreign companies doing business with the United States that also invested more than $20 million in the Iranian oil industry.
 
1998
Jan. 7 - In an interview with CNN, President Khatami said Iran had an “intellectual affinity with the essence of American civilization” because it was also trying to construct a system based on the pillars of “religiosity, liberty, and justice.” He called for both countries to try to bring down the “wall of mistrust.”
 
2000
March 17 – In a speech, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apologized for America's role in the 1953 overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. She admitted that the coup, which put the shah back on the throne after he fled into exile, “was clearly a setback for Iran's political development.” The Clinton administration partially lifted sanctions on Iranian carpets and foodstuffs. But Iran denounced the goodwill gesture because Albright’s speech ended by criticizing Iran’s domestic policies.
 
2001
Sept. 27 – Ayatollah Khamenei and President Khatami condemned the al Qaeda 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington D.C.
 
October 8 – Supreme Leader Khamenei condemned U.S. strikes on Afghanistan. At the same time, Iran agreed to perform search-and-rescue missions for U.S. pilots who crashed on Iranian soil during the war.
 
October-December – After the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan ousted the Taliban, Iran cooperated with the United States, Russia and India in providing support for the Northern Alliance opposition to bring down the Taliban. Iranian diplomats met with their U.S. and other Western counterparts in Bonn to form a new Afghan government. Iran also worked with the United Nations to repatriate nearly 1 million Afghan refugees.
 
2002
Jan. 29 – In his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush referred to Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an “axis of evil.”
 
2003
March – Following the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, Syria and Iran intensified their cooperation to ensure they would not become Washington's next targets. They expanded bilateral defense cooperation and support to insurgent groups to tie down U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
 
May – A Swiss diplomat relayed Iranian conditions for bilateral talks to the Bush administration shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but it was not taken seriously in Washington.
 
Dec. 26 – A devastating earthquake hit the southeastern city of Bam, killing more than 26,000 people. On Dec. 30, the United States flew in an emergency response team. The military aircraft were the first U.S. planes to land in Iran in 20 years.
 
2004
June 21 – Iran arrested six British sailors -- part of the U.S.-led force in Iraq—for trespassing into Iran’s territorial waters. As a blow to Britain, Tehran paraded the servicemen through the city and forced them to apologize. They were released three days later, after negotiations.
 
2005
June – Former Revolutionary Guards commander and presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei said Iran played a more significant part in the overthrow of the Taliban than given credit for by the United States. Washington consistently denied that Iranians made meaningful contributions.
 
June 16 – Iran and Syria signed an agreement for military cooperation against what they called the "common threats" presented by Israel and the United States. In a joint press conference, the defense ministers from the two countries said their talks had been aimed at consolidating their defense efforts and strengthening mutual support.
 
2006
May 8 – President Ahmadinejad sent President Bush an 18-page letter.
 
2007
Feb. 8 – Ayatollah Khamenei warned that Iran would target U.S. interests around the world if it came under attack over its nuclear program.
 
May 28 – Iran and the United States held the first official high-level talks in 27 years. The meeting, which took place in Baghdad, came after Iraq hosted a security conference attended by regional states and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. The talks were on Iraq’s security and were followed by two more rounds in July and November. The United States urged Tehran to stop supporting Shiite militias in Iraq. The talks ultimately did not lead anywhere and stopped after three meetings.
 
Sept. 6 – NATO forces in Afghanistan intercepted a large Iranian shipment of arms destined for the Taliban. The shipment included armor-piercing bombs. Washington said that the shipment’s large quantity was a sign that Iranian officials were at least aware of the shipment, even if not directly involved. Tehran denied the charges. 
 
October – U.S. military commander Gen. David Petraeus claimed Iran was triggering violence in Iraq. Petraeus also accused Iran’s ambassador to Iraq of being a member of the elite Qods Force, a wing of the Revolutionary Guards responsible for foreign operations.
 
Oct. 25 – Washington imposed the most sweeping unilateral sanctions since the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979. It sanctioned the Revolutionary Guards and a few Iranian banks, and individuals believed to have links to nuclear and terror-related activities.
 
Sept. 20 – New York City officials denied President Ahmadinejad’s request to visit the site of Sept. 11 attacks during his visit to the United Nations.
 
December – A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
 
2008
April – The United States accused Iran of continuing its alleged support of Taliban insurgents.
 
Sept. 24 – President Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations and Columbia University, where he criticized U.S. policy and said there were no homosexuals in Iran.
 
Nov. 6 – President Ahmadinejad wrote President-elect Barack Obama congratulating him on his election and urging “real change.”
 
2009
Feb. 10 – In a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, President Ahmadinejad welcomed talks with the United States based on “mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere.”
 
March 20 – President Barak Obama sent a Nowruz (Iranian New Year) message to the Iranian people and government that called for better relations. He also said that Iran’s place in the international community “cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions.”
 
March 20 – Ayatollah Khamenei referred to Obama’s speech as deceptive. In light of recent sanctions, he said Iran would judge the United States by its actions and not by its words.
 
May 1 – Iran rejected the April 2010 report by the U.S. State Department that designated Iran as the “most active state sponsor of terrorism.” Tehran said that the United States could not accuse others of terrorism after its actions at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay.
 
May – President Obama sent a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei before Iran’s June presidential elections that called for improved relations through “co-operation and regional bilateral relations.” Khamenei briefly mentioned the letter in his Friday sermon.
 
September – An Iranian news website reported a second letter sent by President Obama to Ayatollah Khamenei.
 
October – Iran blamed the United States and Britain for involvement in suicide bombings that killed 15 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in southeastern Iran. The attack was carried out by the Sunni Muslim rebel group Jundollah, which Iran claimed was funded by the United States. The group had carried out a similar attack, killing 40, around five months earlier.
 
Oct. 21 – Iran agreed to a U.S.- and U.N.-backed deal designed to provide fuel for Tehran’s research reactor for medical needs and to remove a large part of Iran’s enriched uranium from its control. The deal called for the transfer of 1,200 kg of low-enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment and then to France to produce fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. But Iran later backed off from the agreement.
 
December – Gen. Petraeus accused Iran of backing Shiite militants in Iraq and giving a "modest level" of support to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
 
2010
March 20 – President Obama sent a second Nowruz message to the Iranian government and people. The message encouraged dialogue between the two countries and criticized Iran’s human rights violations during post-election protests.
 
April 13 – President Ahmadinejad disclosed that he wrote a second letter to Obama. “Obama only has one way to tell the world that he has created change, and that is Iran,” he said in a televised interview.
 
June 26 – The U.S. Congress passed tough new sanctions against Iran’s energy sector and IRGC affiliated companies. Congress also called for penalties against companies that export gasoline and other refined energy products to Iran.
 
Dec.6-7 – Iran met in Geneva with members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The group agreed to meet again in January 2011 in Istanbul. 
 
2011
Jan. 21-22 – Nuclear negotiations held in Istanbul between P5+1 countries and Iran failed after Tehran refused to discuss transparent limits on its uranium enrichment program.
 
Feb. 24 – The United States imposed new sanctions on two top Iranian officials for engaging in “serious human rights abuses” since the disputed 2009 election.
 
March 20 – President Obama sent a third Nowruz message to Iran, directed specifically at Iran’s youth. The President addressed Iran’s young people, saying, “your talent, your hopes, and your choices will shape the future of Iran, and help light the world. And though times may seem dark, I want you to know that I am with you.”
 
May 23-24 – The E.U. imposed sanctions on more than 100 individuals and companies tied to Iran's nuclear program, while the United States sanctioned seven foreign companies involved in supplying Iran refined oil as well as sixteen firms and individuals involved in the missile and nuclear program.
 
Oct. 11 – The U.S. Treasury Department designated five individuals, including four senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force officers connected to a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States.
 
Oct. 12 – The U.S. Treasury Department designated the Iranian commercial airline Mahan Air pursuant to Executive Order 13224 for providing financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force.
 
Nov. 21 - The United States, United Kingdom, and Canada announced bilateral sanctions on Iran. The United Kingdom severed all ties with Iranian banks.
 
Dec. 4 – Iran captured a U.S. dronenear the northeastern city of Kashmar and refused to return it to the United States.
 
Dec. 15 – The U.S. Senate passed new sanctions on Iran’s central bank.
 
Dec. 6 – The United States launched its Virtual Embassy Tehran website to provide a means for direct communication with Iranians.
 
Dec. 13 – The United States sanctioned two senior Iranian military officials for responsibility for or complicity in serious human rights abuses.
 
Dec. 20 – The United States issued new sanctions against front companies linked to Iran’s missile program.
 
2012
Jan. 11 – The United States sanctioned three Chinese, UAE, and Singapore firms under the Amended Iran Sanctions Act.
 
Feb. 6 – The United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank.
 
Feb. 16 – The United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s Intelligence Ministry.
 
March 6 – The P5+1 countries agreed to resume talks with Iran over its nuclear program.
 
March 20 – President Obama sent a fourth Nowruz message to the Iranian government and people. The message accused Iran of having an “Electronic Curtain,” criticizing the Iranian government’s internet censorship.
 
April 14 – P5+1 diplomats met in Istanbul with Iranians to discuss Tehran’s promised “new initiatives” on its nuclear program.
 
May 1 – The White House issued an Executive Order targeting foreign sanctions evaders. 
 
May 23-24 – The P5+1 held inconclusive talks with Iran in Baghdad.
 
June 18-19 – The P5+1 held inconclusive talks with Iran in Moscow.
 
June 11 – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Iran sanctions exceptions for India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan.
 
July 12 – The United States announced broad new sanctions on Iranian front companies and banks linked to the Tehran’s nuclear and missile programs. 
 
July 31 – The United States announced new sanctions on Iranian oil and foreign financial institutions that facilitate transactions for Iranian banks.
 
Aug. 2 – The U.S. Congress voted to impose new sanctions on Iran that target companies aiding Tehran’s energy sector. The Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Human Rights Act of 2012 differs from President Obama’s July 31 executive order by targeting companies conducting business with Iran’s national oil company and tanker fleet, such as insurers and shippers. 
 
Aug. 10 – The United States imposed sanctions on a Syrian state-run oil company, Sytrol, for conducting business with Iran’s energy sector.
 
Aug. 12 – The United States offered aid to Iran after two earthquakes reportedly hit almost 200 villages near the northwest city of Tabriz.
 
Sept. 28 – The U.S. State Department revoked the Mujahedin-e Khalq’s (MEK) designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The leftist group had killed six Americans in Iran in the 1970s and attempted an attack against Iran’s U.N. mission in 1992. The State Department then added it to the terrorism list in 1997. But the MEK renounced violence in 2001 and no terrorist attacks have been positively linked to the organization for more than a decade.
 
Oct. 9 – The United States moved to tighten loopholes in its Iran sanctions. President Obama’s executive order aimed to implement additional punitive measures that he signed into law on August 10, 2012. 
 
Nov. 8 – The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned 17 individuals and entities related to the Iranian government’s human rights abuses, its support of terrorism, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
 
Nov. 30 – The U.S. Senate unanimously approved new sanctions on Iran’s energy and shipping sectors. 
 
Dec. 4 – Iran reported that it had captured a U.S. drone that entered its airspace over the Gulf, but the United States denied this claim.
 
Dec. 7 – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the renewal of Iran sanctions exceptions for China, India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan.
 
Dec. 13 – The U.S. Treasury and State Department imposed sanctions on seven Iranian companies and five individuals for “proliferating weapons of mass destruction” pursuant to Executive Order 13382.
 
Dec. 21 – The U.S. Treasury froze the assets of four Iranian companies and one executive for links to Tehran’s missile and nuclear programs.
 
2013
Feb. 2 – Vice President Joe Biden said that the United States was prepared to hold direct talks with Iran to resolve tensions over its controversial nuclear program.
 
Feb. 6 - The U.S. Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and other financial institutions to restrict Tehran’s ability to spend oil revenues. It also designated one individual and four entities for involvement in censorship activities.
 
Feb. 7 – Iran released footage it claimed to have salvaged from a U.S. drone that it reportedly downed in 2011.
 
Feb. 7 – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected the offer by Vice President Biden for direct talks. “Some naïve people like the idea of negotiating with America. However, negotiations will not solve the problem,” he said in a speech to Iranian Air Force commanders.
 
Feb. 11 – The U.S. Treasury Department imposed new nonproliferation sanctions on entities and individuals from Belarus, China, Iran, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela. Credible information indicated that they had transferred to, or acquired from, Iran, North Korea, or Syria, equipment and technology related to weapons programs.
 
Feb. 16 – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed that although Iran has no intention to build nuclear weapons, “America would not have been able to stop the Iranian nation in any way” in speech in Tabriz, Iran.
 
Feb. 20 – Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee welcomed recent U.S. calls for direct talks. He outlined steps the United States could take to prove its good faith, such as “discarding the two-track policy of pressure and engagement.”
 
Feb. 26 – The P5+1 held talks with Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
 
March 14 - The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a Greek businessman and 14 companies for helping Iran evade international oil sanctions.
 
March 14 – The Pentagon reported that an Iranian fighter jet targeted a U.S. drone over the Gulf. No shots were fired and the jet left the area after a verbal warning.
 
March 18 – President Obama sent a fifth Nowruz message to Iran saying there could be a “new relationship” with Iran if it meets international obligations on its controversial nuclear program.
 
March 21 – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he is not opposed to direct talks with the United States in a speech marking Nowruz. But he is “not optimistic” about prospects for success if negotiations take place. He also claimed that the United States “doesn’t want the nuclear conflict to end.”
 
June 3 – The United States imposed sanctions for the first time on Iran’s currency, the rial. The executive order’s objective was to render the currency unusable outside of Iran, a senior administration official said during a conference call.
 
June 4 – The United States sanctioned a major network of front companies for hiding assets on behalf of Iranian leaders.
 
June 18 – The Group of Eight industrialized nations called on Iran to move “without delay” to fulfill its long-delayed obligations in answering questions about its controversial nuclear program. It also called on the international community to fully implement a several U.N. sanctions resolutions designed to pressure Tehran into compliance. 
 
July 1 – New U.S. sanctions banning gold sales and trade in gold with Iran went into effect.
 
Sept. 26 – Foreign ministers from P5+1 countries and Iran met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and agreed to hold a new round of talks in Geneva. Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held their first meeting on the sidelines.
 
Sept. 27 – President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in what was the first direct communication between a U.S. and Iranian presidents since the 1979 revolution. “The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said at a White House briefing.
 
Oct. 15-16 – Diplomats from P5+1 countries and Iran met in Geneva to solve the nuclear dispute. They committed to meeting in November to continue talks that were “substantive and forward looking.”
 
Nov. 7-10 – Iran and the P5+1 made significant headway but ultimately failed to finalize an agreement. Foreign ministers rushed to Geneva as a breakthrough appeared imminent. But last-minute differences, reportedly spurred by French demands for tougher terms, blocked a deal.
 
Nov. 24 – Iran and the P5+1 reached an interim agreement that would significantly constrain Tehran’s nuclear program for six months in exchange for modest sanctions relief. Iran pledged to neutralize its stockpile of near-20 percent enriched uranium, halt enrichment above five percent and stop installing centrifuges. Tehran also committed to halt construction of the Arak heavy-water reactor.

 

Obama Says No to New Sanctions for Now

            On November 14, President Barack Obama urged Congress to give diplomacy a chance ahead of another round of talks with Iran. He also pledged to not lift key sanctions on the oil, banking and finance sectors as part of an interim deal. Tehran is scheduled to meet the world’s six major powers on November 20. The following is an excerpt from Obama’s statement.

 
QUESTION:  Do you have reason to believe that Iran would walk away from nuclear talks if Congress draws up new sanctions?  And would a diplomatic breakdown at this stage leave you no option but military action?  And how do you respond to your critics on the Hill who say that it was only tough sanctions that got Iran to the table, but only tougher sanctions will make it capitulate?
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me make a couple of points.  Number one, I've said before and I will repeat:  We do not want Iran having nuclear weapons.  And it would be not only dangerous to us and our allies, but it would be destabilizing to the entire region, and could trigger a nuclear arms race that would make life much more dangerous for all of us.  So our policy is Iran cannot have nuclear weapons.  And I'm leaving all options on the table to make sure that we meet that goal.
 
Point number two:  The reason we've got such vigorous sanctions is because I and my administration put in place, when I came into office, the international structure to have the most effective sanctions ever.  And so I think it's fair to say that I know a little bit about sanctions, since we've set them up, and made sure that we mobilize the entire international community so that there weren't a lot of loopholes and they really had bite.
 
And the intention in setting up those sanctions always was to bring the Iranians to the table so that we could resolve this issue peacefully, because that is my preference.  That's my preference because any armed conflict has cost to it, but it's also my preference because the best way to assure that a country does not have nuclear weapons is that they are making a decision not to have nuclear weapons, and we're in a position to verify that they don't have nuclear weapons.
 
So as a consequence of the sanctions that we put in place  -- and I appreciate all the help, bipartisan help, that we received from Congress in making that happen -- Iran's economy has been crippled.  They had a -5 percent growth rate last year.  Their currency plummeted.  They're having significant problems in just the day-to-day economy on the ground in Iran.  And President Rouhani made a decision that he was prepared to come and have a conversation with the international community about what they could do to solve this problem with us.
 
We've now had a series of conversations, and it has never been realistic that we would resolve the entire problem all at once.  What we have done is seen the possibility of an agreement in which Iran would halt advances on its program; that it would dilute some of the highly enriched uranium that makes it easier for them to potentially produce a weapon; that they are subjecting themselves to much more vigorous inspections so that we know exactly what they’re doing at all their various facilities; and that that would then provide time and space for us to test, over a certain period of months, whether or not they are prepared to actually resolve this issue to the satisfaction of the international community -- making us confident that, in fact, they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
 
In return, the basic structure of what’s been talked about, although not completed, is that we would provide very modest relief at the margins of the sanctions that we’ve set up.  But importantly, we would leave in place the core sanctions that are most effective and have most impact on the Iranian economy, specifically oil sanctions and sanctions with respect to banks and financing.  And what that gives us is the opportunity to test how serious are they, but it also gives us an assurance that if it turns out six months from now that they’re not serious, we can crank -- we can dial those sanctions right back up. 
 
So my message to Congress has been that, let’s see if this short-term, phase-one deal can be completed to our satisfaction where we’re absolutely certain that while we’re talking with the Iranians, they’re not busy advancing their program.  We can buy some additional months in terms of their breakout capacity.  Let’s test how willing they are to actually resolve this diplomatically and peacefully.
 
We will have lost nothing if, at the end of the day, it turns out that they are not prepared to provide the international community the hard proof and assurances necessary for us to know that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon.  And if that turns out to be the case, then not only is our entire sanctions infrastructure still in place, not only are they still losing money from the fact that they can’t sell their oil and get revenue from their oil as easily, even throughout these talks, but other options remain.
 
But what I’ve said to members of Congress is that if, in fact, we’re serious about trying to resolve this diplomatically -- because no matter how good our military is, military options are always messy, they’re always difficult, always have unintended consequences, and in this situation are never complete in terms of making us certain that they don’t then go out and pursue even more vigorously nuclear weapons in the future -- if we’re serious about pursuing diplomacy, then there’s no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective and that brought them to the table in the first place.
 
Now, if it turns out they can’t deliver, they can’t come to the table in a serious way and get this issue resolved, the sanctions can be ramped back up.  And we’ve got that option.
 
Click here for the full statement.
 

Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo